30 September 2017 - 31 August 2018

Empire through the Lens

Pictures from the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection

From 500,000 photographs and 2,000 films in the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection, we asked 27 people to each choose just one. Their choices are shown here, and the reasons for that choice are explained in their own words.

The British Empire & Commonwealth Museum collected photographs and film from people who worked in the Empire, their families, and companies and government departments working with the colonies. Some are from well-known people, such as the writer Elspeth Huxley, others from anonymous photographers working for organisations like the Crown Agents. Some record great historical events, but many document the everyday lives of families living and working abroad. It is a fascinating collection, giving a broad view of the Empire and the early years of independence.

The selectors reflect the range of the collection: academics, artists, photographers, film makers, colonial workers and their families, development workers and local communities. Each brings a different perspective to how they ‘read’ the image and the legacy of Empire.

Empire through the Lens is an exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery showing photographs and film selected from the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection at Bristol Archives. Click on the images below to read more about them.

Gus Casely-Hayford

“Photography is so important to understanding colonialism.”

Jan Birch

“It’s really important that people in Britain understand the Empire’s part in their own history.”